It has been a summer, and it is barely even summer.
I cannot talk about all that has happened here, but I have felt the wrongful use of power from within the ekklesia–the adopted family of faith, the light-holders, the called. This is a special grief.
When I was young, my family experienced a profound betrayal. At the heart-wrenching news of a sibling’s diagnosis, the inherited virus that struck fear in the hearts of the most educated and powerful at the time, a church responded as though they were not heirs to a different Kingdom, as though their inheritance did not set them apart to love and courage.
New to the mission field and missionary kid identity, a hemisphere away from the congregation, my heart was still in those stateside walls. I had grown up there. I had stenciled its bathrooms. I had flipped those worship song overheads. And my faith and discipleship had flourished within that loving community. I didn’t have many friends in Kenya yet. We were sent but had not completely left perhaps. On the ground, but maybe a little in the air.
When as a family we were in the throws of the grief of the surprise diagnosis, I was incredibly unsuspecting that loved ones could respond in any way except empathy, sadness, and love. I didn’t know the word stigma yet, and I wasn’t versed in the rationale behind HIPAA. So when that home church board, which had shown Jesus to me in so many ways, rejected my sibling, and questioned our new livelihood and partnership, I grappled. The silence of others was an injurious as the words blasted out. (My parents tried to shield me from much of this, but they also taught me how to use e-mail and read, so…) Grief upon grief. One parent eventually flew back to the States in an effort to find reconciliation, with the help of a mediator. I remember the other parent crying in their bedroom, when the water tank decided to leak through the roof, alone in a foreign country with 5 kids, spotty electricity and that hovering sense of abandonment. Water pouring down the walls, and my own sense of belonging and home pouring out with it. It was disorienting, and though we did not speak of it much or share about it then, it was defining.
That experience forced my faith to differentiate from a place, or an outcome. And it showed me that the most mature, the most devoted, by word, may be the youngest in deed. Everyone has work to do. And fear is a convincing hurricane pulling up the tallest trees.
A few months ago, I was working with some colleagues to address some sensitive and serious matters. I heard the words “stay small,” during one time of prayer. As an advocate, a first-born, a leader, and achiever, we can all be confident that these words did not come from my head. The words helped me with patience, and to work within the given system, to wait behind leaders, and watch. And the words help me today as I am forced to continue waiting and watching from this place of betrayal and grief, as I see false narratives and am left alone to check my own attitude and actions in this Church.
I find comfort in the smallness, the humility, of the passion of Christ. The disorder he endured and the abandonment central to our Good News disarms my expectations while hosting my pain. I compare alluring human success, the touting of statistics, name recognition and acquisition of comfort, with his rhythm of ministry, his walk of suffering, and I don’t see much connection. I know from his life that collecting successes and platforms was not the aim; the power and the transformation he preached was in the visit to the prisoner, quiet and inconvenient, the feeding of the individual, unknown and undocumented. His stories are small, like the vulnerability of confronting and empowering a woman, in the heat of the day, at a pivotal moment. His record was one of investment into real relationships. Proximity to the pain was central. His acquisition of status did not overlap a hair with this world’s. His smallness and humility was our very victory and salvation.
I can no sooner slow the growth of my children as I can solve my current problem or convince people to do the right, small thing. So I am left to start small, to stay small, with my self. Am I one that employs language of reconciliation and love but do not meet at the table with the complicated friend? Do I outwardly suggest all means of generosity and inclusion, but side step relationships when they smack of sacrifice? Do I stay at his feet, do I quiet the demons, enough to be draw near to the God of the margins, the Lord of kings? Do I build equity and justice in the small ways, in the daily steps?
There is enough work to do in me to keep me thinking small and to extend far beyond the puffing chest or the raised fist. Giving helps the grief, and blessing out of brokenness is the only way to heal. So far Life keeps reminding me that it is in the pouring out and the breaking, the kneeling and washing that we meet, we share in, and enjoy, the holy. We echo him, and we find him, and that is all we ever could hope to do.
It was fitting that I was cooking with a fair amount of bacon grease when the call came. Grandpa Pruitt, Bobby, had passed on to the next life. Suffering no more, he was gone. And like that, as my dad said, the oldest generation was departed, leaving behind deep roots and so many branches in this family of faith.
I remember as a little girl, wrapping presents with Grandpa in our guest room in a split level house in Oregon. They had come for Christmas again, and we were busy downstairs, just me and him, somewhere between the DOS computer and patchwork quilt. He used the scissors with a constant up and down motion, snipping each 4 inch segment of the wrapping paper at its appointed time. I showed him what I liked to do: hold those scissors at a steady angle and ZIIPPP, that new line was slightly curled in the wake of my linear efficiency. “Well, I’ll be,” he beamed, sputtering something about the thought of ME (who he commonly referred to as “ugly”) being able to teach HIM something. He wasn’t one for pretending so I believed that I had introduced this technique.
It’s hard to explain a man who called his young granddaughter ugly without once causing her to question how much he loved her and thought otherwise. He was the Zeke Braverman of the family, with less Berkeley and more suspenders. He got away with too many things, and was my first teacher in the well-meaning, if not downright inappropriate, insult. He wasn’t too proud to tear up when noticing the significance of a moment, or laugh that high, vacuum-sounding pleasure at his own mistake.
Proverbs 13:20 Become wise by walking with the wise; hang out with fools and watch you life fall to pieces.
I give thanks for this man, this legend of the river and woods, of missions and letter writing, romance and brusque ways both. For the life he and Grandma built. Thank you, God, for the son they raised in my father. For this undying legacy my siblings and I are swept up in. Thank you that he is no longer lonesome, no longer limited. Be with us, the crowds of Pruitts and beyond, grieving this loss, the passed generation of scaffolding, stability and faith, which not one of us has ever lived without. Our ankle twists in the hole left behind the removed pillar. Our eyes squint at the absent shade. Their hands, their hearts, their foibles, all so big. All such a gift.
He found mansions of glory here, on this earth—in his garden and around the fire, on the water, in the kitchen and beside his bride. His eyes twinkled with endless delight at innumerable grandbabies, the piano, a pie, a bad joke, and always, always, at the sight of any of his six children. But now, the mansions of glory, and endless delight that do not end are his—the ones needing no repair, that do not age and move away. All his senses restored, reunited with Grandma, with his youngest daughter, with so many of his friends who went before him. I don’t think that Rush Limbaugh is turned on in every room up there, but who could hear it over Grandpa’s storytelling anyway. The hymns have taken over, the berries are ripe, the river glass.
I love you Grandpa and miss you already. Thank you for loving this life, and us, so well.
Ironically, having a baby forced me into contemplation today. This almost never happens.
Lucas is sorting out his sleeping demons, which is really fun for us, and in a last ditch effort we went for a walk this morning. With each step I found myself able to pray for quiet, consecutive minutes, a luxury I used to ignore.
So many things facing us, aren’t there? Personal health. Court trials. Paperwork. Bills. Activist hearts, cluttered brains, booked calendars. Faith and fear. Life and death.
We ended up at a large cemetery, a block away. It had been years since I had been there. It’s a quiet walking area in the middle of our densely noised neighborhood. It’s also where we honored a student and friend who died unexpectedly in 2007. I found his resting place.
I was so young and inexperienced with grief at the time. He had been my student the year before, and was in his freshman year of high school when “Pancakes” suddenly became very sick. The questions outlived the answers.
Today is his birthday. Today this young man would be 24.
My prayers turned to his family. I couldn’t believe the math, the date. This rock and this contemplative place, where so much grieving has taken place, reminded me that God has asked us to mourn. He has invited us to be a lamenting people who kept the faith, a grieving people who looked at the truth of their hearts and situations, not deny it. One of the main things God has been teaching me over the past 11 years is grief. I am still so young and inexperienced, I know. But experiences like losing Cesar and witnessing the pain in his family and the community have been formative and eye-opening.
Forced contemplation today reminded me that God is very, very big. The stretch of His reach and power are not dismissive to the list of needs I brought today; the true burden of those things inform my appreciation for His superior breadth. The grandeur of our problems and burdens, of the losses we face or carry, are enveloped in, and indeed inflate, our view of His greatness.
I felt that reassurance today, as I found myself at this grave, warmed by the sunlight, and the memories of this young man, on his birthday. I feel so lucky to learn grief with those who have become my neighbors and family, and want to give others the permission to name their own. I am encouraged by the reminder that God is larger than the scope of my concerns and inadequacies this week.
A letter to my daughter for a time:
Today I am reminded of you. I remember the day you were torn from our home. Though you slept through the night, you were awake for much of that one. First for examination and a soothing bottle. As I fed you in front of a sympathetic police officer, I prayed and cried while your foster dad was interrogated by a very misguided lady. Then, after you had been placed back to bed and the officers had reassured us that there would be no removal or further problems, after over an hour later, you had to wake again. This time, because of that lady’s immovable choice. This time, for a final diaper change, a final hug and grasp. You were so disoriented as we placed you in that wonky car seat.
Why am I reminded of you today? Because now my son, my youngest, is the same age as you were then. 10 days shy of 9 months—that’s when your peace was disturbed and our protection was interrupted and we lost you, despite our best efforts. Now we will be with him longer than we had you.
Every day our youngest has been with us has been a gift, just like every day with you. He looks at me for reassurance when someone else holds him, just like you did. He crawls fast towards us, after venturing away for a brave minute, just like you did. That morning, we had a garage sale, and for an hour, I took you with me to a meeting and prayer time. Like him, you went with me just about everywhere. You were distractingly happy and playful, going back and forth from me to new items in the room. His glee at movement, at us, at life, are on par with yours. And today, he will go to bed and not wake up in foreign places, away from everything he’s known. Life will continue as it should. As it should have.
I’m also mindful of you today for another reason. I’m tender towards the young girls in my world who are growing up in a world that elected our next president, adamant that you deserve better. Young girls like your aunt-for-a-time, who is feeling defeat like a true, new agent of change, destined to make a difference for a long time. I know that you’re not my daughter, but you are the closest thing I’ve had to one, and I often think what it would be like to have a daughter in these times. You have always had many women who loved you and sought to meet your needs; I may be the one you’re never told about. But it doesn’t make me less true. Now, I want to tell you in a motherly way some truth: you, as a female, are worthy of respect, leadership, and choice, though many things will suggest otherwise.
I want to tell you, my daughter for only a time, that no matter what our culture, our courts, our elections say about women, we are made in the likeness of God, and resemble the Diety in unique and powerful ways. I want to tell you that no matter what popular vote happens, no matter what Donald Trumps and Brock Turners occur, that you are encumbered and covered with love, intelligence, power, volition and beauty, and these burdens behoove each of us to reject the narratives that would normalize misogyny and downplay our accomplishments. They implore us to insist on our God-given place at the table—every freaking table. It will be a fight and it will not be fair. Today I wish we had a better historic landmark to offer you—you at the age of 3. Our culture’s dirty laundry and resistance to change is out for all the world to see, and slaps the face of all of us women who know that sense of being better-qualified, under-appreciated, under-compensated, harder-working, less-safe, less-credible or defeated—lest we forget.
Dear sweet girl, do not forget this: you, as a woman, are equal in worth and standing in the eyes of God. I pray that the truth of who you are will echo more loudly than our misogynistic culture lies of who you should be. I am dedicated to raising sons who affirm these things about you, and your sisters, your mothers and your daughters. I am raising sons with daughters in mind. It is an upward battle; as young as they are, they are already absorbing the skewed gender slurs that mitigate our value. I am writing you, in this somewhat imaginary scenario, partly because I miss you and I still grieve you, but more so because I truly pray for your empowerment as a woman and especially as a woman of color. And on this day, the day after a set-back in this realm of things, you’re first on my list to cheer onward.
You were my daughter for a time and you are the symbol of our daughters—those girls we love, and make space for, and teach and parent, whether for an hour or 9 months. You are a face to those girls we would give anything for, that they would have the freedom and empowerment to be all they are created and capable of being, without fear and apology. I’m sorry it will take so much grit.
I write to you, from my grief and disappointment today, in hopes that tomorrow your stories, and those of your peers, would have the bearing and validation they deserve. I was blessed to be a part of your story for a time…until the very last minute. I continue to be inspired by you and love you.
a mother and woman
(proud to be both)
It’s hard to breathe sometimes, isn’t it?
I can name 4 major crises my small circle is facing right now. This morning, in the midst of doing something very inconsequential, scrubbing the neglected corners of my kitchen floor, I found myself on my knees, which is not very inconsequential.
I cannot do much for these loved ones. I can give strong hugs, I can suggest ideas from my finite mind, I can feel–oh, I can feel–their sorrow and grief. But I cannot abbreviate their grief, end the illness, free the captive, raise the lifeless or infuse identity.
As I bent low, making a difference in the dirt, I used a basin older than me. It was my grandmother’s. A woman who is going to welcome her daughter soon in the heavenlies. A woman of faith and gentleness, servanthood and humility, that I rarely resemble. As I considered the hours she spent scrubbing, the moments she must have used this bowl, the small, calloused hands I remember that gripped so many young children’s palms in her own and cleaned so many spills, I felt connected to a lineage of people who endured, who believed, who saw the best in people.
The prayers of my grandmother live on, much like this enamel basin. It helped me to pray on the floor this morning, for the sorrow and trauma my loved ones are suffering, for the milieu of danger and suspicion and blame in our nation, for the strength to wait and be loving.
I don’t know how God endures the grief He must feel over His lost and hurting people. Over our refusal to reach out, our rejection of His citizenship, and our constant evaluation of one other in self-defense when all He has done has been for our belonging and to grow our grace. I don’t know how He faced this earth and said He would stay with us Always.
God the Son bent low and washed feet. It didn’t end cancer. It didn’t fix the betrayer’s heart. It didn’t save them from martyrdom.
All that is wrapped up in Christ’s basin and kneeling eludes me but today this occurs to me: He is with us at the lowest and messiest. This is my God–the One who serves, weeps, and gave up His breath so that even when it is so hard, we breathe on and we have someone to pray to who knows this pain.
I don’t feel any obligation to remain poised in the midst of today’s hurt. But I must stay prayerful. I must stay knelt at a humble basin, facing the dirt, remembering that though the air is thin, this is not the end. We come from a tradition and a Lord who embraced those margins. We are not unfamiliar with the dark corners of life and fallenness. And we are not conquered or calloused under their persistence. I reach deep into the water of faith at these times, and stay low to listen and to love. It is all there is to do.
Is what the Life and Deaths
There have been times in life that make us feel courageous, that we are courageous people, perhaps by the grace of God but also perhaps by our own virtue.
These are rarely the times of true courage.
It seems that true courage, or the next courage, feels crappy. It is not when the mission is utterly clear, when the sacrifices are distinct, and the rewards are quick to the tongue. Sure we were exhausted, sure those were good callings and brave steps, but we were comforted by many assurances that this new courage may leave behind. I suspect that true courage is found in its purest form in the ambiguity, in the dry mouth of shock and the straining eyes of “what is next?”
In and around me, I see the battle cries. The ones dismissing people from faith, from understanding Scripture, from their circle of trust, because it’s all too foreign. The ones setting a church over another, handing out excommunication slips with the slip of the tongue, freely and full of pity. The ones buckled to a certain position on a temporal issue, that is of course higher in the heavenly rungs of Babel than the next. I hear the scraping of lines being drawn, in the sand, on the cement, in people’s flesh and blood, raw with passion, rightness and self-aggrandizement. And blood, blood, is everywhere. Under a shoddy understanding of courage and conviction, we enclose ourselves in echo chambers that murder any shred of a will we had to understand and be curious about the Other. And I can’t find eternity and I don’t know a Divine voice.
I have been in the debates. I have defended my view, easily attacked the opposing side, dismissed a fellow Christian, felt full of my own rightness and bravery, thought my choices were all probably going to trump theirs whenever the scoring took place. I care very much about many of the “issues” at hand and many of the rights and wrongs worrying the Church today. But I have lost the courage I knew before—the courage that emboldened me to argue much, for long, in the face of the echo chambers. I have gone through enough (dare I hope?) disappointment the past two years to have to face a different type of courage I must learn. For me, it is one that requires more faith, more silence, and less stability.
This courage is less rewarding. It is a grueling morning of dragging one’s body awake, into the naked air, squinting at the abrasive, unrelenting Light, and slowly, resigned and resolute, adding “well” to the “it is” of the night before.
This is the new, next courage.
A courage that is craved and imitated poorly.
From the looks of it, this courage is less likely to call a person an enemy and less likely to be productive in the ways I’ve practiced. It seems that this courage is going to ask me more about Forgiveness and less about Rightness. It may mean the death of some discussions and the start of better ones. It’s going to scoot my actions and activism to the side, not to expire them but to bleed out the toxins of loyalty to any one culture above one Kingdom.
And in this new courage, I recognize that old friend grace—that soulful desire for embrace and being embraced continues, a metaphor Miroslav Volf explains by “the will to give ourselves to others and ‘welcome’ them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, prior to any judgment about others except that of identifying them in their humanity.” And speaking of identity, this courage does not rest in any resumé entries, from schooling to fostering to missionarying to mothering to developing. It just is. Alone. Without promises, untethered by the things to which I like to tether.
Perhaps you too are deflated from the night, from the pile of “it is”-s of the past. All of those debates and deaths and doings that have left us undone. And daylight is awakening a profound discontentment. If this courage makes sense in your new year too, if the morning is also brash and there are a lot of untethering things, not least of all your self, that you’re wanting the Divine to make well, let’s ask together, “What is courageous in this place? What deaths and no’s or new-life yesses does a new-courage faith ask?”
“Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.” Philippians 1:18b-20
Quote from Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, p. 29.
All who make idols are nothing and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. He and his kind will be put to shame; craftsmen are nothing but men. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and infamy.
No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge of the understanding to say…”Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left?” He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”
I have not spoken in secret, from somewhere in the land of darkness; I have not said to Jacob’s descendants, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right. Gather together and come; assemble, you fugitives from the nations. Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save.
Isaiah 44:9,11, 19-20; 45: 19-20
Still with images of girls and women being yanked around in their swimsuits and viral videos of uniformed crime and salivating mouths over a lie about race in a movement that needed her integrity (much worse than a lie about, say, family health and safety), I pray for AME churches and for the spiritual family that was attacked in Charleston. For the 5-year-old girl playing dead to live her life. She is the future of our Faith, the victim of our ignorance and idols, now a name joining a long history of persecution and dangerous gatherings. She may leave or re-enter the congregation in the years to come based on the white-majority church’s ability to call a spade and spade and do the awkward, slow, and humbling work of getting better.
I pray for the African American followers of Christ–I cannot imagine how my family members, literal and spiritual, ache as the attack resonates with parts of who they are, and blatant racist action is dismissed or not commented on by other believers–especially those leading the Church. I pray that they would somehow be resilient in the face of a white-silence solidarity, the enduring presence of such hatred and the outstanding discrepancies in our approach to the criminal. Minority-culture churches do not have the liberty of being silent and fearful when it comes to these headlines; they do not have the liberty of touting how the Church is color-blind and not color-coded in the immediate wake of these deaths. But it is undoubtedly wounding when these luxuries are witnessed.
And I pray for the grace and discernment to love, to not assign false viewpoints and narratives to people at a glance, that close them in and shut them off. I pray to see my own fear, my own idols, and my own pain, truthfully. Oh, that I, with others from this Bride, would stand with the margins sacrificially, the mourning, breaking away from the fear, parties and self-protection that prior headlines have grown. How can our grief for fallen Christians of color fall along lines in a predictable fashion? How can our grief and anger be so vulnerable to political agendas and the lie that calling this racist somehow indicts all others?
I weep for what it must be like to be a black young person with this news. And to still log-on to Facebook and see the same people, saying the same things or not saying anything, diverting and dodging the R-word when the shooter clearly stated his motive and paradigm.
Tomorrow, that 5-year-old girl could be the girl at the pool, Dajerria Becton. Saved in the sanctuary to be treated like a guilty party, a fugitive somehow, as a teen. If you fail to see the connection and believe me to have taken the “media’s” Kool-aid, ask around. Ask those who are trained from birth to keep their hands in view when they’re pulled over. Ask those who are taught that they must make eye contact with storekeepers and smile whenever they enter a store. Ask those who have a different expectation and definition of respect and power than you do. They will know the dots between one cute, innocent victim of a “tragedy” and one controversial teen in a video being pulled by her hair.
Idols in the church rot it from the inside out. I love this Family the more I get to know it, but it is a costly and conflicted love. It is painful, so painful, to see some of the idols standing tall, grasped tightly in the right hand, when funeral arrangements for saints, shot because of their skin color, are underway. Let’s call this a hate crime, racist and perpetuated by a sinful society and culture that still makes decisions and judgments based on race, armed with many ways to spin racism so we never have to admit to it. And let’s call the Church’s ill-preparedness or sheer inability, especially in the white church, to empathize with our fallen African American brothers and sisters and condemn their predator a sin–an indicator of an idol that organizes an other-worldly organization into categories rooted in the depraved depths of this world. Kudos to those who are re-examining. Who are reaching across the segregated aisles of the congregation. Who have mourned and prayed for their African American church family more than ever before. Who have called this racist, named the discrepancies, and risked public disapproval or awkward conversation.
May the Lord make the fugitives powerful, strong and brave enough to continue gathering, continue seeking and continue claiming their freedom and liberty. May He show the pursuit, the worship, the faith, is not in vain, quickly, through a reconciling Church and a zero tolerance policy of racism from the steeple outwards. We are of the Already and Not Yet. To some it costs their lives; to others it costs the idols in our hands.
Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accused of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their loves so much as to shrink from death.
The destination has become cloudy and the way there so long.
It’s been over 3 years that we have been actively pursuing adoption. It has been a year since the vulnerability of the children and foster parents in the system became all too clear. Unsuspecting, unprotected, and undone, we went into shock in the wee hours of June 15, 2014 and she was taken to strange places in an unsafe carseat, never to be returned and never to be told goodbye properly.
Among many of the lies we were told last June 14th, it was said that we could resolve the “problem” in the next week. Sunday was torture. Offices closed. Ryan nosedived. Monday was hopeful. There were things to do–people to pursue. Weeks turned into months and still no answers and no baby for the bottles in our drawer, no body for the pile of folded clothes on the couch. No explanations for the destruction of evidence that would release Ryan from the nightmare, no communication from the force that negligently and shamefully put our family and our foster daughter in danger. It took several months before the county decided “Inconclusive,” due to the reputable nature of the supposed reporting party mixed with the refusal of said person to ever comment or validate claims and the lack of evidence on 6 different visitations to find something wrong with our house, parenting and children. Don’t worry, we were told–some foster parents have 20 inconclusives in their files and were still caring for children. We did not find this comforting, but quite alarming. And it didn’t make this 1 right, and it didn’t guarantee our continued involvement in this system.
Sure enough, a month later, our license was revoked–unheard of for 1 inconclusive indictment. We contested; we asked for the review meeting. More letters, more references, more certified mail. A meeting was finally scheduled. Almost 4 months later, they changed their decision to hold us, with the caveat of an extra class for Ryan. 3 more months. Now we’re in line for another home study as all the ones during the investigation were for a different purpose. And time keeps marching on.
June 14th sticks out in my mind because it was unjust and the end of much naivety. And aside from all that it was the death of our care for a girl we loved. It started baby girl on the most traumatic month or more of her life. It began a series of exhausting initiatives that ultimately did not free us from two lying people with major baggage. There is no grave, and it was a slow death, but its severity still stings.
By today, I would have thought we would know more about our destination, this journey, this way that started so long ago, with the best intentions and tenderest of hopes. We still wait.
Another thing happened June 14th of last year.
While we were pleading for her to stay, being lied to and about, and packing a bag, a dear friend was finding hope. Her life in many ways had been smashed to smithereens by a person in whom she had trusted and with whom her life and identity were intertwined. She had been betrayed and left, and was in the fresh, fragile season of gathering her self back up under God’s grace. Unexpectedly, June 14th became a significant day for her too; she saw her offender. And, because there was a miracle and her heart was strong, she had compassion. That night, she told me months later, she experienced and extended God’s mercy and love in new ways and in the tumult of faith confronting real life, she forgave. She had a powerful initiation into a freedom and new chapter that began with seeing a broken person who had hurt her deeply with God’s eyes. It was liberating and necessary–she didn’t begin the day ready for that, and she didn’t orchestrate the destination; along the way, hope and new life took hold, and she was rescued. Easter happened again, and disorientation began to be designed into reorientation.
Her account of June 14th is also mine and mine is hers; they are both true. Juxtaposed on this anniversary is a cross of suffering and a lily of resurrection. I am so thankful for the gift of her memory–for that story that informs my own and helps us keep moving in the grief and confusion. That reminds me that we need each other, at our weakest and best, and that the goals and plans are simply kickstarts to us moving at all. Along the way, Grace is there. Along the way, we hurt and we laugh. Along the way, we see things we were not looking for, and perhaps would have never, ever, asked for. And along the way, we find we were not, and are not, alone.
Forward, onward, all of us, all that has been, together. Immanuel.
It is a time of digging deep and bearing down; a time to look at the dust on our arms, the bruises to our vision and pray, however we can, for saving. The cumulative laments and brokenness have their welcome here; bring your ashes and rags–it is a brutal fight for faith.
Today we begin with a renewed collective spirit to join hands across the graves of our lives. We reach out knowing that the suffering has changed us and we carry it, and we look forward to a time, a resurrection, when that suffering will have improved us. We are not too hurting to know that we have caused sorrow ourselves, and this too drives us forward, discontent and restless.
This year, when I read with many other saints Matthew 6, these words make me wonder:
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
The secrets of the year leading up to this Lenten season are too many, many unspoken. We are dizzy with all the unknowing. It seems cracked and hurting to look at some of those secrets–to see the destruction, the disappointments, and the lonely, stranded places.
Here, in this verse, the secret is holy. The secret place is a refuge, a reward–something where the Unseen is interacting with the seen, the Infinite with the finite. Here, the quiet darkness and solitude–what was looked down on by the religious–is esteemed. The chapter suggests that only when morality and virtue comes out of a secret place, a deeply transformed character, is it the light that shines that Jesus spoke of in the chapter before. Only when the behaviors are unknown and unnoticeable to the disciple herself can the security of the birds of the air, the confidence of the lilies of the field, be hers. So accepting of and accepted by God’s Kingdom is she that she has lost her insecure false self and gained an orientation of abundance rooted in faith. Scarcity and self-protection have been replaced and she is free to be spiritually formed by quiet disciplines and spiritually active in unobserved ways.
Could I find Him in the secret questions, doubts and fears that still haunt us? That rear up when I receive an unexpected phone call, recounting more lies about our story? That make me pause in the middle of some songs, some readings, because I don’t know those things any more and I’m not sure if they are true? Those ashes, the debris of a busted up world, that we each bring with us, from the news, from our marriages, from our hurting churches, to this strange Ash Wednesday? Could we find Him here, in the secrets–in those experiences and tragedies that have been as, if not more, transcendent and impacting on us than anything else?
You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. Psalm 71:20
The beginnings of this season are humble. And they are wide. All are invited to bring their mess, to bring the death that has happened, into the sanctuary. Ash Wednesday and Matthew 6 and being a disciple are all about not doing things right, not having things figured out, and still finding ourselves welcomed on a journey of death becoming life. We are best prepared when we have been put in touch with our own depravity and fragility. When all that is seen is not rescue enough for what is unseen.
Today we take the first step in an awkward dance of self-forgetfulness, which is to say, freedom. A mysterious and secret, yet collective and traditional, meeting. My laments, my failures, my pride, and all the shaky ways I prop up my self-image and facades of safety are accepted and loved and gently, secretly, replaced. In exchange I am freed to take part in a character, a light and a love that calls to the margins and calms my true self that remains. A economy of abundance that I cannot understand with the previous coverings.
Again, I am headed to the steeple of love, the cross, and every time it is a disarming, mysterious journey.